Suggestions of SOP regarding travel for migrant workers to Ajay Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, by Stranded Workers Action Network, covid-india.in, GramVaani, CoAST India, and Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network:
We are a group of researchers, students, lawyers, engineers and civil society workers that have been coordinating and directly providing relief to stranded migrant workers after the lockdown was announced on March 24. Simultaneously we have also built https://migrants.covid-india.in/ and other digital platforms (details in the endnotes) for workers and others to make information on travel and relief measures widely available and accessible.
Since March 27, we have supported over 46,000 migrant workers by connecting them with civil society organisations and have tried government facilities to reach them in addition to some emergency cash transfers. In the process we have documented their needs and experiences and also collaborated with state governments to set up helplines. The MHA has issued multiple inter-state travel orders from April 29. The latest order, dated May 11, spells out a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for inter-state travel for workers.
We are writing to you to work collaboratively and enable better coordination across states for migrants to travel back to their native place. There are two specific areas where your intervention can significantly improve processes and ameliorate hardships faced by migrants. These are for your urgent consideration.
- Based on our experiences, we wish to share that the SOP issued in its current form is incomplete. We want to share some key insights and offer a set of measures to fill the gaps in the current SOP.
- Support a common data portal for migrants to register their travel request. It will also take data from existing state specific mobile apps. The portal in turn interfaces with all stakeholders involved in planning and support in their journey including medical staff, police, district authorities of both states and the railways.
Review of Existing State Portals and Procedures
Since the April 29 order issued by MHA that permitted inter-state travel for stranded migrants we have been closely tracking orders and official announcements on migrant related travel and have been assisting migrants navigate this information and procedures. We present some important observations regarding this.
Variation in information collected by state portals and need for standardisation:
- While some basic information like name/identity/contact information/addresses are common across registrations forms on state portals, there is also considerable variation. For example: Haryana asks for an employer name, some states ask for the industry sector and Karnataka asks for the duration of stay in the place of work, Gujarat asks for an NOC from the state the migrant is travelling from and so on.
- Requirements for uploading photos and scans of IDs in different file formats is making the registration processes unnecessarily difficult.
- Based on specific state requirements, migrants have to register twice: on the portal of the state they are travelling from as well as the state they want to go to. Some states have specifically waived off the double registration at both ends. For example, Rajasthan has said it will not ask for registration for coming into the state unless the state of origin of travel specifically asks for an NOC. Most states are not clear about this though leaving many people confused about the process.
- In some cases, for example, people have managed to travel from Karnataka to Jharkhand without being registered on the portal and have had to pay Rs 1,000 for the journey.
Portals for two crucial states, Delhi and Bihar are not functional
- It was difficult to trace the registration link for migrants stranded in Delhi. The link has not been posted on the official website of the Delhi government but is on the website of the Delhi Shelter board (https://www.delhishelterboard.in/covid19/migrant-info.php)
- Bihar government’s portal has been non-functional since MHA announced that migrants will be permitted to travel
Post registration processes unclear, leading to increased anxiety
- After registering on state portals, like Jharkhand, migrant workers did not receive any confirmation.
- For those who successfully register, there is no tracking mechanism for them to know about their own application status.
- Policies being followed to prioritise selection of travelers are not transparent.
- Procedures for travel post-registration are either unavailable or do not meet the requirements of migrant workers. In the case of West Bengal, people who filled the form to return to Jharkhand received a notification asking for private vehicle information.
- Schedules of trains are published by only some states and in an ad hoc manner. There are no public spaces, mechanisms, or specific portals for this sharing and no further efforts made to ensure that this critical piece of information reaches the affected parties.
Emerging black market for tickets
In the absence of information on the number of trains that will run, schedules, transparent processes for seat allotment, a black market has developed overnight. Migrants have reported paying between Rs. 1500-8000 per person to register for travel by private bus and trains. The costs vary by distances.
Suggested Immediate Measures: Issue SOP, in consultation with states, to standardise migrant travel procedures:
Such a SOP can minimally consist of the following basic features:
Dissemination of Information, Facilitation Centres and Registration Procedure
Standardise online and offline registration processes as far as possible. Also specify the need for a system of announcements for the information to reach the affected people. Creation of multiple facilitation centres for this is critical. Transportation (bus and train) must be free for any migrant worker who wishes to return.
- Each ward in every city should organise widespread announcements informing them about facilitation centres where migrants can register to travel, travel time and how long they will need to spend in the quarantine centres. Registration should include name, contact details, source, and destination.
- Multiple spaces (schools, colleges, malls, marriage halls, army areas etc.) must be used to create such facilitation centres. They should have several registration counters that should be open from 0600 to 2100 to ensure that physical distancing is maintained. Each such facilitation centre should have separate dedicated counters for some high density states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal.
- Given the large proportion of migrant workers who do not have smart phones or internet, officials should register on behalf of those who wish to travel, give them a dated receipt for the registration and simultaneously enter the travel details on a single co-ordinated web-based platform.
- A single well-coordinated web-based technology platform/app should also be used to log basic details of the workers at the registration centres and otherwise. This will feed directly into the information gathered from the facilitation centres, which will use the same platform/app. Some minimum features of such a platform are mentioned below.
- Registration must not have conditionalities. It should only be based on the workers’ choice to return home and not the will of the states on who should move.
- Any government ID of one individual in the group can be used to attest the details of all the people registered in the group. Workers should not be asked to make photocopies/scans/photos of their government id cards. The officials may check the ID at the time of registration and log the details.
- Specify criteria for prioritisation for travel such as if somebody is pregnant, sick, weak, stressed and if there are children in the family or single women and this should be widely publicised, not only online but in each ward of every town/city.
- The portal should allow all those who have registered online and offline to track their application status in addition to messages being proactively sent to their phones via sms.
- Clarify that the onus of issuing passes and testing should lie with the state from which the migrant is travelling. Registration in the home state should only be done on arrival. Further testing and quarantining procedures as per WHO standards should be set up in the home states upon arrival.
Logistics – Reaching the Station, Arrangements for the Journey and Final Destinations
- From the registration process, the total number of those stranded and their destinations can be collated. This will inform the governments of the minimum number of trains/buses required, as well as the routes that need to be arranged. Lists of migrants cleared for travel should be provided to home states on a daily basis to make adequate preparations for arrival.
- Special feeder buses and intra-state feeder trains need to be used to transport people from each ward to the station. Since the number of passengers in each train and the time of arrival is well known in advance, the home state should organise adequate numbers of buses/trains keeping physical distancing norms in mind for transportation within the home states.
- There should be three-stage check-ups for all those travelling: (1) Before the journey (2) during the journey (3) after the journey, at the destination. Multiple medical teams must be in each train throughout the journey. At each transit/exit point, there should be strict testing. Quarantine facilities must be available at each transit point so that anybody exhibiting COVID- 19 symptoms can be quarantined immediately. Every transport facility must be sanitised.
- Each train should run with the maximum number of coaches as possible. Hot, cooked food should be provided for all passengers on board free of cost. Having multiple pantry cars can help ensure physical distancing in the kitchen as well.
- Once trains reach the border of a home state, they should stop at several reasonably big stations inside the state, and not just the state capital. f. States should draw up their own SOPs for all procedures upon arrival including thermo testing, quaranting, providing rations etc.
Public Disclosure of Information/Grievance Redressal
- Train schedules, details of feeder buses connecting to train stations, boarding points, passenger lists and waiting lists must be made transparent and publicly available in multiple spaces in each ward and online on a continuous basis. The tickets should be free for the workers.
- Each public registration centre should act as a worker facilitation centre. Each such centre must be provided with time-bound grievance redressal structure. SOP for grievance registration and redressal must be a part of the SOP for travel and logistics. Grievance collection procedures must be decentralised and not rely only on a single helpline number.
On the issue of migrants the different Court directives are as follows:
- In a case before the Bombay High Court PIL(ST)5443-20, PIL(L) 22-20, PIL(L)25-20 the court on Friday May 6, directed the Maharashtra government to take a decision on whether it would bear transport costs of migrant workers returning to their home states amid lockdown. The court also suggested that the government should publicise the decision so that migrant workers learn about it. Based on this all states should be given a timeline to make this decision and share it widely with the public.”
- The Karnataka High court in the case W.P. No.6435 of 2020 CJ / BVNJ: & Connected matters directed the state to place on record in what manner the state is going to arrange for operation of special trains for the benefit of migrants. If there are complaints received by the state that some contractors or employers are confining the migrant workers to their shelters and are not permitting them to go to their respective home states, the state government will have to attend to such complaints and will have to ensure that the migrants are not harassed in this fashion. The Court further directed that the policy of the state government should take care of all categories of migrant workers irrespective of the fact whether they are in their own shelters or in 5 shelters provided by their employers or shelters provided by the state or whether they are on streets.
- On May 8, accepting an application filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Supreme Court held that for migrants to go to their native state it is not compulsory for them to test negative before they are allowed. We now outline some basic features that a single web-based platform must minimally have. Our team of technologists would be happy to work with the MHA in designing and developing such a web-based platform.
Minimum Features for a Single All India Portal for Migrant Travel Registration
- Basic information, standardised across states should be collected by a single portal for ease of data compatibility and collaboration.
- Data from existing registrations on state portals should be migrated first to the single portal
- Information collected through offline registration processes (police stations etc) should be entered on the same portal by the officials in a time-bound manner.
- The portal could include work-flow features such as verification and approval of migrant traveler lists by district authorities, assigning lists to state authorities to generate requests for trains, matching trains to passengers and sending travel related information to migrant workers.
- This portal should be developed in consultation with the Ministry of Labour to serve as a starting point for building a record of migrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable.
- The portal can be developed in collaboration with different stakeholders by taking up an ongoing effort between two states to ensure that it meets their needs. The single portal can be piloted first with states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Jharkhand who are currently working on the logistics. .
- There is an urgent need for a coordinated grievance redressal and helpline mechanism and that needs to have information from across states and ideally should be coordinated by the Centre. Creation of a national helpline and help desks to support all migrants is therefore essential.
- The registration of workers on the portals should be unconditional. At present many states are only allowing migrants who have been detained on the way in shelter homes, schools or other kinds of accommodation provided by the government. We hope that the MHA considers these minimal set of measures outlined above regarding the travel for those workers who wish to return.
We are also happy to participate in any consultative role that is appropriate and suitable for the MHA in this regard.
On behalf of the Stranded Workers Action Network: Anindita Adhikari, Rajendran Narayanan, Sakina Dhorajiwala, Seema Mundoli
On behalf of covid-india.in: Aditya Srivastava
On behalf of GramVaani: Aaditeshwar Seth
On behalf of CoAST India: Vivek S
On behalf of Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network: Minhaj Ameen
- Based on a desk review of orders and announcements and clarifications from nodal officers (where we were able to get through) we have compiled information on https://migrants.covidindia. in/, available in 8 languages. We are a group of activists, researchers, lawyers and students who came together to collectively track the rapidly evolving situation after the nationwide lockdown was announced in light of COVID-19 outbreak.
- Gram Vaani operates several voice-based media platforms that facilitate information sharing among users, and also facilitates grievance redressal and response via a network of community volunteers. During the period of the lockdown, over 100K users have accessed information through 500K phone calls, contributed over 6000 voice reports about ground realities, and over 500 testimonials have been reported about access to relief measures facilitated by community volunteers.
- The Covid Action Support Team (CoAST) was formed in April 2020. It is a collaboration of civil society organizations who are working together to ensure that citizens (especially migrant and vulnerable sections) are able to receive help and relief during the COVID-19 lockdown and thereafter. The platform connects those in distress with nearest relief – either government or civil society organisations.